By Steven Kurlander
Earlier this month, one of the country's great politicians of our day, Congressman Bill Young, died while serving his 22nd term in office.
Young was a career politician, the longest serving Republican in the House of Representatives. He was remembered as a devoted public servant, eulogized not only as an important advocate for the American military and wounded veterans, but also for his tireless work for his district and his dedication to various medical causes, such as a bone marrow registry.
Young was also eulogized by Republicans and Democrats alike as a statesman, a political craftsman and teacher of a once noble vocation that's much maligned and misunderstood today.
Congressman Vern Buchanan summed it up best:
"Bill Young was a mentor. He was an inspiration to so many because he personified the most important virtue of public service -- he did it for others."
Young died in a time when there's really no respect at all anymore for American politicians, particularly those serving in Congress. A recent ABC poll found that the popularity of Congress is at a 40-year low, with a mere 12 percent of registered voters approving and 85 percent disapproving of the job Congress is doing these days.
It's an era where the worst of political advocacy and thought is highlighted and bemoaned.
As a result, there's a sustained cry for term limits. In concert with this call, there's an ever growing anti-incumbency attitude that has already swept many good, decent career politicians from offices in primary battles and discouraged others from continuing their careers.
Bill Young served a congressional district that evolved over time from a GOP stronghold into one of many in the I-4 corridor where Democrats have made serious inroads. Yet, despite his incumbency, despite his age, and despite his party, he continued to get re-elected, term after term.
That's because he was extremely dedicated to his constituency and did his job well.
Young proved that term limits are not the answer to fixing our broken political system.
Even today, there are still great politicians like Bill Young, who work hard for their constituencies, bring about effective changes and dedicate their lives to the public good. Good politicians deserve to get re-elected.
Bad politicians don't, but many of them do. They keep winning not because they're effective, but because they can manipulate the vote, with the help of wealthy donors and Super PACs and even the courts, by gerrymandering their districts. Also, too many rich newbies lacking empathy for the common voter buy their way into office.
There are no educational, physical, or emotional requirements to becoming a politician. It's on-the-job training, period.
And like any other very important, complicated jobs, being a politician involves an extensive learning curve. It can take many terms to become excellent at the job.
Bill Young did not start off being a great congressman. It took decades to build his legacy.
Term limits don't allow good politicians to become great ones. They are driven from office before they learn, practice, and perfect the political craft.
And do term limits really result in different people running for office? No.
In Florida, for example, term-limited politicians just run for different offices, a kind of musical political chairs.
Bill Young was the best of the best and proved the greatness of government service in our political age of dysfunction and disdain.
Indeed, we need to stop thinking term limits, get rid of gerrymandered districts, and allow smart, dedicated people to once again run for office and perform a lifetime of public advocacy and good like Congressman Young did.
Published in Context Florida on October 30, 2013
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